Gradient flows and randomised thresholding: sparse inversion and classification

Jonas Latz*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Sparse inversion and classification problems are ubiquitous in modern data science and imaging. They are often formulated as non-smooth minimisation problems. In sparse inversion, we minimise, e.g., the sum of a data fidelity term and an L1/LASSO regulariser. In classification, we consider, e.g., the sum of a data fidelity term and a non-smooth Ginzburg-Landau energy. Standard (sub)gradient descent methods have shown to be inefficient when approaching such problems. Splitting techniques are much more useful: here, the target function is partitioned into a sum of two subtarget functions—each of which can be efficiently optimised. Splitting proceeds by performing optimisation steps alternately with respect to each of the two subtarget functions. In this work, we study splitting from a stochastic continuous-time perspective. Indeed, we define a differential inclusion that follows one of the two subtarget function’s negative subdifferential at each point in time. The choice of the subtarget function is controlled by a binary continuous-time Markov process. The resulting dynamical system is a stochastic approximation of the underlying subgradient flow. We investigate this stochastic approximation for an L1-regularised sparse inversion flow and for a discrete Allen-Cahn equation minimising a Ginzburg-Landau energy. In both cases, we study the longtime behaviour of the stochastic dynamical system and its ability to approximate the underlying subgradient flow at any accuracy. We illustrate our theoretical findings in a simple sparse estimation problem and also in low- and high-dimensional classification problems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124006
JournalInverse Problems
Issue number12
Early online date9 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Allen-Cahn equation
  • classification
  • piecewise-deterministic Markov processes
  • sparsity
  • stochastic processes
  • subgradient flows

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Signal Processing
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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